Wednesday, May 27

Mario Brockman, Park Slope

Mario Brockman likes airplanes, Ducatis, cycling, sunning, plants, healthful beverages, his cat Cybil and sleeping in his light-washed bedroom during the especially bright hours of 6 - 9 am. Self-described as an AV-equipment helper as a schoolboy, he also enjoys being the PA-guy at the Park Slope Food Coop for four hours every month. Mario grew up in Tanzania, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), so that may explain why his home in Brooklyn, which he shares with his friend Debbie, has what some people might call an ethnic vibe (unless you're from those environments--then what is it? Just normal, I guess.). African art hangs on the walls, coconuts sit on the kitchen counter, Pygmy textiles cover pillows, etc...

Homebodies subject Bob introduced me to Mario via SMS and said his friend would be fun for the blog. Soon after Mario's response, "It is my pleasure to make your acquaintance," I was on an F train to Brooklyn.

Blogging in people's homes can sometimes be weird, though. I never realize how strange it might be until I'm on a stoop with a gifted cappuccino muffin for a stranger whose dietary preferences I haven't been able to detect. I start second-guessing everything. What on earth am I doing here?

Fortunately, Mario was heaps of fun and game for it all. When he called my name out from a second-floor window, his silver curls like springs in the sky, I knew I was in good company. Six hours later, Debbie had come and gone and come back again, and we joined the downstairs neighbors for dinner (another post for Homebodies!).

Mario was nice about the muffin. He cut it into fourths and neither one of us really ate it. I think he's probably more of a vegan- or organic-muffin type, and I realized I don't even really like muffins. We ended up along the lines of coconut water, Red Stripe and scotch.

"It looks like such a guy's apartment," Mario said when he saw the above pic. "A girl would never have a t-shirt hanging from the window." The reproduction French Provincial chairs from Haiti, where his parents also lived, are leftovers from a brilliant business plan to import them. "I'd say we didn't lose that much money," he says, laughing. Roomie runner Debbie wins races--and trophies. Our sad muffin. Mario whacking a coconut for its water. On the refrigerator, a provocative note: "...thanks for taking such good care of my feminine needs..." He ran some tamponian errands for a friend during a road trip.

In this home, it's called Acapulco. Because, says Mario, it's blue and 1970s-ish and it reminds him of the Neil Diamond song. And so, a curtain of hula girls hangs in the shower. A louvered window leads to the roof.

Bicycles, plants and shoes crowd the narrow hallway.

Living Room
Tons of plants make the living room feel like a jungle. They also purify the air. On the wall is a painting by Moke, probably the most famous artist from the Congo. Considered a "painter reporter," he recorded urban life. Moke, who died of AIDS in 2001, was friendly with Mario's mom, so his work hangs throughout the apartment. Table by Paul McCobb. The colorful pillows depicting hot-air balloons and rats were handmade by friends.

A wildebeest head hangs above the fireplace. Mario joked that, due to the spelling, it was German for "wild beast." Turns out he's right: Wildebeest means just that in Afrikaans, a South African language with Dutch (and therefore Germanic) roots. High five! It's from his sister Domenica's store Petrune, in Ithaca, New York. She sells vintage clothing, accessories and furniture, and the store is named after their Grandma's cat. The iguana was a birthday present from Domencia when he was a teenager. Professional homebody.

Dressing Room/Massage-Chair Room
Between the living room and the bedroom is the "dressing room," which contains most of Mario's clothing, as well as a massage chair he got off Craigslist. "So for $200 I've had an eyesore for four years," he says. It features an uncomfortable donkey punch. The painting on the wall is a self-portrait of Moke. Below it are antique Haitian chairs and pillows his mom covered with woven-grass Pygmy textiles. That's my beer. His scotch.

On the dresser, a stuffed groundhog, also from Petrune, watches over sunglasses and cash. Yoga mats. The bulldog doorstop, from his mom's sometimes-open store Upcountry Antiques in Trumansburg, wears a price-tag ankle bracelet. Mario says that because the fam has furniture stores, it's not uncommon for relatives to shop, keep the tags on and switch stuff out when they get bored.

Mario likes to chill on the bed, where ficuses and banana plants give off more green. On the wall is a failed papier-mache project by a Bread & Puppet puppeteer friend--it turned out more Ferdinand the Bull than savage beast (up close, the horns are about as menacing as baby arms). It was a gift for his 20th birthday. The crooked brass lamp on the side table was $3 at a garage sale (originally priced $5). A cute little doll lives in a planter near the window. His mother teamed up with a handicap center to make them and sell in the U.S., which they did not do very well--long story--so, as Mario puts it, "We have a lot of dolls kickin' around." Him and Cybil.

Below, Mario Speedwagon and his Pimp guitar, a birthday gift from Debbie. The pimp sticker is from the Ferdinand/puppeteer guy. We took a breather and formed a band at around 5:32 pm that day, according to the time stamp on these pics. Another Moke. On the other table, a thank-you note from his sister, who recently stayed there, begins, "Hey my brother..."

Laundry/Stretching/Yoga/Storage Room
Around the corner from the bedroom is another room for whatever. Frequently worn pants hang on a hook behind a door. On shelves are old t-shirts--"for painting, but I don't paint"--and backstock of favorite jeans, like five of the same. "It's from growing up in Africa," he explains. "There are limited resources, so you're buying stuff for the millennium." Mario likes building and flying radio-controlled airplanes. This yellow number is a high-tech throwback to the 1950s-style toy planes. "It's called an Old Timer," he says. "It floats low. I got this one cause you can fly it with a cocktail in your hand."


  1. Interesting as usual! Seems like any other guy, until you see the "ethnic" objects. You must be quite the conversationalist! How else could you show up and start talking to a stranger?

    I felt the tension when you were about to open the door!

    Looking forward to the next one!

  2. Excellent post! I love it all!!! (Where is the view from the front door?)

    And hey, I grew up in Hawaii. We would get the coconut, pull of the husk (took a long time), punch nail holes into the three ”eyes“ of the coconut, and drink the juice. Then we would eat the coconut meat.

  3. I think Mario is a wonderful man, just from seeing his home. He seems fun and whimsical.

    Nice blog!

  4. I think I have a little crush on Mario!